As we near the end of TeenTober, I just want to talk a little bit about why YA literature is so important.
Young adult literature has really flourished in the past few decades. Once dismissed as a “genre” that was unrealistic, dumb-downed, and lacking in quality, YA literature is now widely hailed as relevant, diverse, innovative, and audacious. In fact, young adult works have grown in number and in quality so much so that their appeal reaches beyond its intended audience. It is estimated that approximately 55 percent of today’s YA readers are adults.
One of the best qualities of YA lit is that it addresses the needs and interests of its readers so well. Teens and young adults are “in transition,” constantly evolving and searching for their sense of self. Their needs are not only physical, but emotional, intellectual, and societal. From relationships to sexual identity, self-image, activism, and politics, nothing is off limits in today’s YA. In fact, some would argue that YA literature is more responsive to these issues than the publishing industry at large, explaining much of its widespread appeal.
YA literature is also reflective of a diverse group of authors and characters. What was once a collection of books by and about straight white women has thankfully grown to be a rainbow of authors and characters. Many teens of color, indigenous teens, LGBT teens, teens living in poverty, or teens with disabilities first saw a character like themselves in a YA book. Furthermore, the authors themselves have become role-models, also mirroring these teens in gender, race, and orientation. Maybe even more importantly, today’s YA literature provides an opportunity for teens to read about characters unlike themselves, building their capacity for understanding, empathy, and compassion for others.
One final word about the importance of YA literature: currently, the United States is facing a literacy crisis. Studies show that fewer than a third of 8th graders read and write at a proficient level. And for low-income students and students of color, the statistics are even more alarming. There are various arguments over how and why we have reached this point; however, most would agree that the need for solutions is urgent. Engaging teens through current young adult literature provides an opportunity to shift the trajectory. Today’s YA lit has the potential to draw in those reluctant and struggling readers, to motivate them to pick up a book, and to cultivate their love of reading. I believe that many of the solutions can be found in these stories.
None of this growth in young adult literature would be possible without the diligence and passion of today’s talented YA authors. Honestly, there are too many outstanding writers to just name a few. If you would like some YA reading recommendations, please reach out to me on Bookologist. I am always more than happy to make some suggestions! In the meantime, happy reading!